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BPR Interviews: Dr. Eric Knost

Dr. Eric Knost, superintendent of the Rockwood School District in St. Louis County, MO, has spent more than 30 years in public education. These roles include that of teacher, principal, and currently, superintendent. During the 2017-2018 school year, he also served as the chairman of the Voluntary Interdistrict Choice Corporation (VICC), a program that oversees the implementation of St. Louis’ metropolitan area desegregation program which is responsible for facilitating transfers of city students to well-performing suburban schools districts and suburban students to the city magnet schools.

What is VICC? What problems was it set out to address?

VICC is a voluntary program that stemmed from a resolved court case regarding desegregation. This program ensures that inner cities and impoverished children have the same access to education as other local St. Louis regional children. This program is a partnership between county schools and St. Louis city schools. This court case went on for a number of years, and ended up leading to a positive partnership, allowing county kids to attend magnet schools and city kids to experience county schools. The schools appreciated the added diversity and the new opportunities. It was viewed by many schools as a choice program that they held the reins to. When the court case resolved, a number of superintendents said we need to keep these opportunities alive and as a result, created VICC which was initially a five-year agreement but has been extended multiple times. We are now entering into the last five-year agreement.


Do you feel that St. Louis is closer to the vision that VICC had set out a few decades ago especially with regards to desegregation and quality education?

There is no doubt that the VICC program and the desegregation program gave students a lot of opportunities that they otherwise didn’t have. Neighborhoods with very low performing schools, which may have been closed at times, exist. VICC provides kids living in such neighborhoods with opportunities to attend county schools where, many of the times, there are more resources. As the program continues, educators realize the richness of having a more diverse student body. Our schools in the St. Louis region are much more diverse than they were many years ago. In Rockwood, for instance, we have English as a Second Language program for kids who speak a language besides English at the dinner table; we serve over 90 languages in that program.


Why is VICC being terminated in 2023? Is there a program that will replace it to address these issues?

VICC is a transfer program that is race based. You have to be a minority living in the city of St. Louis to qualify for the program. According to a number of lawyers, five seems to be the maximum number for extensions of this program that are legally permitted. As long as the program is diminishing and the opportunities in the school district that the students reside keep improving, the program can continue. The next question is whether or not this program can exist in a different matter. Can it be something that looks at just socioeconomic status? We all know that poverty is not limited to just the confines of St. Louis city. There is poverty in other areas of the county; there is situational poverty throughout the area, including areas like the Rockwood School District. This is where it gets tricky and there are a lot of things we need to consider. Last year during my chairmanship, there were some who wanted to dive into that long-term planning and start figuring out what proposal we needed.